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FILM REVIEW: The Glenarma Tapes (2023)

The Glenarma Tapes - New Release Review

Director: Tony Devlin

Starring: Warren McCook, Sophie Hill, Ryan Early, Emily Lamey

Written by: Tony Devlin, Paul Kennedy

Produced by: Aideen Hand

Cinematography by: Jennifer Atcheson

Original Score by: Garth McConaghie


In Spring 2020 when five students and two faculty members from the Mid Ulster College of Art go missing in a forest on the north coast of Ireland. What happened on the day they disappeared has remained a mystery - until now.

The Glenarma Tapes Film Review


'The Glenarma Tapes' succeeds in breathing much needed fresh air into the found footage genre by turning the form on its head with a modern twist. Directed by Tony Devlin and co-written with Paul Kennedy, this marks Devlin’s first stab at a feature film coming from a background in acting and theatre. It’s great to see Ireland’s contribution to the genre shine in its writing and performances. The cast of characters offer a unique portrait in their camaraderie and rapport, authentically encapsulating what it's like to be from these parts. Going a step too far, all in the name of good craic.

We’re told the opening sequence takes place during Spring 2020, when a group of college kids in rural Ireland are reported missing in a forest under suspicious circumstances. The only survivor is in a coma. Lost in the shuffle amongst the Covid heavy news cycle, there has been a lack of coverage on the case. The negative feelings towards the mainstream media and the police, with paranoia at an all time high. Two years later the footage is finally uncovered and pieced together.

A familiar setup though the film does feel fresh in its presentation and character development, touching on familiar tropes whilst experimenting to offer something new to the subcategory. With its nods to true crime and scenes that seem plucked straight from modern horror video game designs, the film is ambitious in its aims and production. Shot over the course of a total 14 days and with its 78 minute run time, it goes by in a flash.

The Glenarma Tapes Film Review

Set in Mid Ulster the POV style horror takes us to the day in the life of Gordy (Warren McCook), a kid in college from a dysfunctional household who is the subject of a fly on the wall style documentary. Shot by his friend and aspiring filmmaker Jimmy (Ryan Early, Super Lemon) for a class project, Jimmy captures Gordy’s life from council estate life to immediately getting into a fight before ever making it to drama class. Hood up the whole time to demonstrate his angst. Joined by Eleanor (Sophie Hill) and Claire (Emily Lamey), they are the perfect match for the pair. After eavesdropping on their lecturers, the group decide to sabotage their plans for a late night visit to Glenarma forest. Plotting against them, the group plan on capturing everything on camera for an exposé after overhearing how they truly feel about their students. 

The group set off to the isolated forest first on an old bus, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the area since 2008 and then by other means. Lacking the foresight, they have limited supplies for the evening apart from their cameras and poor intentions concerning their lecturers. After passing by a derelict shop at a petrol station on the outskirts of nowhere, they grab a few things before meeting an odd fellow who works there. He spins them a tale about the forest, how people have disappeared and about ole Harry-Half-a-Head, which is the most Northern Irish sounding insult. The scene is reminiscent of the classic “you kids don’t know what you’re getting into coming round these parts” made famous by 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' and more recently in 'X'.

Once into the forest, the group are weary and self aware enough to notice they have slipped up and made some questionable decisions. They decide to abort the mission, lost and in the midst of night. They get closer and closer to the sounds of chanting and stumble upon a cultish display where a large group are in the midst of a ritualistic sacrifice, before The Huntsmaster directs his attention to the students.

The Glenarma Tapes Film Review

The character driven plot showcases each of the students well and brings out the cast's fantastic chemistry. The class representation and dynamics between students and teachers, teenagers and parental figures is extremely poignant. We genuinely care for these characters and the predicament they get themselves into develops organically from a prank gone wrong to the discovery of something more sinister.

The footage recently discovered and newsreels assembled bridges the gap between found footage and true crime documentary format. Aesthetically and in the visual storytelling, there are intriguing elements with the production and style of presentation. More prominent recently where the inspiration is not coming from other films but instead from survival games and their visual language. Much of the film feels like the narrative driven, choose your own ending, butterfly effect horror games such as 'Until Dawn' and 'The Quarry'. (Oddly enough the latter was a working title for the film)

The deadliest game portion is probably the weakest aspect of the film as it passes by so quickly. The POV shots cut quickly and it does get a little muddled together after a while, making it difficult to identify what action you're trying to follow once the manhunt is underway. Alongside the interest in Irish folklore, the horror elements with the people in the forest and The Huntsmaster only begin to scratch the surface here leaving some room for development. With all the mythologies of the land and room to wonder with these horrors, Irish folk horror is something audiences are definitely ready for.

The ending does a lot of work where I feel the middle portion of the film lacks, it becomes more interesting with the potential cover up. What it says about class and particularly in relation to the police, is something that maintains current in Northern Irish society and is very on the nose. What carries it through is the set up, the strong characters and their chemistry plus a unique ending. Through the tapes, a personal diary with montages, archive, found footage and POV horror. The development of relying on true crime tropes makes the film satisfying as a viewer that goes beyond the Blair Witch comparisons. 

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

-Gary McIlhagga

'The Glenarma Tapes' is available on Digital Platforms and VOD right now

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